Actor Anushka Shetty speaks to Subha J. Rao about her much-awaited Irandaam Ulagam, and how she is travelling back in time for films and learning from her choices

One minute, she’s a feisty girl working on a farm, plucking plump golden mushrooms. The very next, she’s a doctor with a tender look on her face as she helps deliver a child. Both her roles in director Selvaraghavan’s magnum opus Irandaam Ulagam (Varna in Telugu) seem punctuated with the casual effortlessness that Anushka Shetty is known for.

Since 2011, Anushka has been inhabiting different worlds — Selvaraghavan’s Irandaam Ulagam, S.S. Rajamouli’s period classic Baahubali and Gunasekhar’s Rudhramadevi, an ode to the 13th Century Kakatiya queen.

Anushka has been shooting for Irandaam Ulagam, releasing on November 22, since December 2011. It has been a taxing journey, but a rewarding one, she says. “The film is based on a beautiful concept — love. I’ve never done a film like this before. Plus, there was the prospect of working with Selva. I just wondered if I would be able to live up to his expectations. I had a great time shooting, and am looking forward to the film.”

Though a late entrant to the industry — she made her debut in her 20s in the Telugu Super (2005), starring Nagarjuna — Anushka found her footing soon. She had her share of hits and also-rans till Arundathi (2009) happened, and the films that followed established her as an actor of substance. But Anushka says she’s learnt from all her films. “No one can force you to do a film. I am responsible for the films I chose, hit or flop. I am where I am because of what those films taught me,” she says.

Anushka’s had a pretty good strike rate at the box office. How does she choose her films? “I never see how meaty my role is. If I like the script in its entirety, the director, or if my co-star is someone I greatly admire, I sign up. You learn so much being part of a great team,” she says.

Anushka also believes that when you feel good, you work better. “When you treat everyone on the sets with respect, it keeps the workspace free of tension. Your conscience is clear and that reflects on the camera.” But, then, “I also have my off-days, like everyone else, when I wake up not liking the way I look.”

Director’s actor

How happy is she with her current projects and her performance? “I never meant to be an actress,” says Anushka, who was once training to be a yoga teacher. “Initially, I merely followed instructions. Then, I learnt what not to do. In films, that’s very important,” she says, adding Deiva Thirumagal is the first film where she liked her performance. “The director, your co-stars…everything matters,” says Anushka, who calls herself a director’s actor.

This is why she loved working with Selva. “He’s extremely talented. He extracts great performances from his actors. His nuances transform a good scene into a fantastic one.”

The trade speaks of how hundreds of crores ride on Anushka’s films. Does the burden of expectation get to her? “I’ve never felt I’ve achieved something. All I can do is give a film my best. Which is why, even today, I happily accept criticism.”

Till the end of 2014, Anushka is busy with Baahubali and Rudhramadevi. “I’m quite comfortable shuttling between sets. I take some time to get into the skin of the character; then, I manage fine,” she smiles. After these, she looks to genre hop, taking up “any good role that takes me out of my comfort zone. Any film that will set a new standard.”

So, what’s it with Anushka and royalty? Did she ever imagine she would play queen so often on screen? “Never,” she laughs. “But, my mother loves to see movies with princes and princesses. Probably that’s why I get to do all this!” But yes, “for the first time ever, I looked at the Rudhramadevi teaser and felt, ‘Okay, I’m looking nice’.”

Baahubali

This movie is huge. I’m working with Rajamouli after Vikramarkudu. A lot of hard work has gone into the look of the film and my character. But, the best part is that Rajamouli makes it all so comfortable for actors. His entire family is on the sets, and that adds to the lovely atmosphere.

Rudhramadevi

I’m very excited to be part of a 3D film. I sport two different looks. The film is set in the 13th Century, and there are not many reference points. The entire team (art direction: Thota Tharrani; music: Ilaiyaraaja) has worked hard to recreate that era.